This axe was made for the execution of the Cato Street conspirators. Of the men convicted in connection with the plot, five were sentenced to transportation for life and five – including William Davidson – were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The death sentences were subsequently commuted to hanging with posthumous decapitation, and this axe was specially commissioned for the purpose. On 1 May 1820, in front of a crowd of some 100,000 people, the men were hanged until they were dead and then beheaded before the gates of Newgate Prison. In the event, the axe made for the decapitation was never used: the conspirators’ heads were instead removed by a masked barber-surgeon, using a surgical knife, before being held up to the crowd. Fearing that the executions might lead to a serious riot, the government deployed soldiers in readiness around the prison, and the conspirators’ bodies were interred inside the gaol later that same day.
- Article by:
- Alex Lock
Dr Alexander Lock discusses Magna Carta’s relationship to parliamentary reform and to radicals fighting oppressive government. Find out how this medieval peace settlement was reinvented as a potent symbol of liberty and justice.